Burning Man recap: Whiteouts and last-minute burn

This was my fourth Burning Man celebration of living out of step with the Bush mantras. It was just as kooky and fascinating as in the other three, but that final all-day whiteout from 7 a.m. to about 6:30 p.m. was fretting time. No matter how good the book, attention inevitably wandered to the outdoors and wondering if the Man was going to burn. Nobody was interested in breathing the clay powder blowing with the wind.

But burn the Man did starting at 10:48 p.m. with the longest fireworks show yet. This year for the first time I didn't make the walk to the giant circle outlined around the Man, who instead of on a wooden building was on scaffolding decorated with flags of nations. Instead, I hunkered down out on the perimeter where the RV I was sharing was parked. Didn't even pull out the camera as I knew Brad Horn would get all the photos needed.

So when the flames began licking around the Man, it was the torso oddly that burned most brightly. But then the arms blazed and fell and the Man bent over and tumbled forward. The usual shouts of "Burn, Man, burn!" reached all the way to our group.

And that's when the partying really got under way. I'll spare you the details, but it was climax time for the 49,000-plus Burners. We decided to get out of Black Rock City on the playa and drove to Gerlach, where we parked on a back street and breathed clean air.

The RV was the best accommodations yet for me, a 28-foot Winnie that had room for three of us and a host who supplied everything from pomegranate juice to cold beers. The RV had air conditioning, sound systems and a video theater. Luxury enow.

The first time out I was in my then-new SUV and I slept in it on air mattress. I drove up on a Monday and back the same day to file the opening day story. Then back on Thursday through Sunday, doing all the reporter things. Second time I decided to tent it, in optimistic foolishness. Took me days to get the clay power out of my hair. Third time I shared a "folding" RV with Kirk Caraway of the Appeal. Nice and he makes fine fish tacos. And this time the RV materialized out of the blue and was enough to make me go to E-bay shopping for one.

Biggest problem with covering the Man is filing stories. First time I lucked out and used the press Internet hook up. Ditto second time; third time it was courtesy of Dan O"Day of Incline Village, but for No. 4 I had to use the WiFI net " and everybody else was also using it. Which is why my report didn't make it to the Appeal until Monday. My filings from Black Rock City are probably still floating around the Ethernet.

So how do I rate this Burning Man? Obviously, the whiteout cut out a lot of touring of the playa to see the art scattered about (couldn't find the work of the Carson artist anywhere), but the Tuesday trip introducing columnist Guy Farmer to the Man allowed me to get an idea of the works out there.

The organizers have no control of the weather so they can't be blamed for the Monday whiteout which held back artists trying to build their displays, nor for Saturday's ordeal. So give it an "A" for effort and a "C" for outcome.

Next year? I dunno. The RV owner is anxious to do it again, and it was so comfy that I just might do it. But if I do I wanna make sure I also find an RV with a satellite dish so I can be sure my stories make the paper.

There was been a lot of criticism of Burning Man of late " all those cars driving from who knows where and polluting the air. Which is, of course, why Burning Man organizers are talking about decentralizing and having Burning Mans in other places as well as the Black Rock Desert. Sounds good, but we'll have to see.

Then there's the picture of all 49,000 Burners dancing in the desert while the world shakes: Pakistan with nukes up in the air; Afghanistan getting hot again; Iraq getting its back up and telling us to get out while accumulating billions of oil dollars while we continue to spend; and home politics, Obama vs. McCain. Sort of like dancing on a bonfire. But has the world ever been solid enough that we can all shuck cares and dance, as they do in Peanuts?

Jonathan Kellerman has become a staple of the thriller genre, and for good reason.

He writes taut, well-plotted novels with his child psychologist deftly solving puzzles with the help of the ever-present luther maker Robin and a dog and koi in a pond. In "Obsession" (Ballantinebooks, paperback, $9.99, 446 pages) 19-year-old Tanya, a former patient of Dr. Delaware, visits him with disturbing news about her mother, who on her deathbed confessed to having "killed him," but then dying, leaving her stepdaughter Tanya puzzled and worried. Much about compulsive behavior, Delaware pal detective Milo Sturgis' police work and eventually about how the stepmother was the gem everyone thought she was. Kellerman has a way with bringing humanity into the story and he does it deftly here.

If you've read Kellerman in the past, you know what he's like, and he's the same (but different!) here.

- Contact Sam Bauman at editor@nevadaappeal.com.

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